Variety first reported last week that Morales and current SAG-AFTRA co-president Ken Howard were facing off for the presidency of the performers union. Jane Austin is seeking the secretary-treasurer slot as part of the Membership First slate, which has adopted the slogan “Champions for real change, not pocket change.”
SAG-AFTRA has not yet certified the candidates for the election, which will take place starting July 15. Membership First, which touts itself as progressive, plans to run a slate of 17 candidates.
Morales, a former SAG national board member, told Variety that he was first approached a month ago about making a run after current board member Sheen had turned down the role.
“I’ve subbed for Martin Sheen before — as a replacement on the national board,” he added.
Morales said that he’s become increasingly distressed over the slow payment of residuals, lack of transparency by the union during the recent commercial contracts negotiations, the erosion of standards for middle-class actors and the recent moves to close 10 of the branch offices.
SAG-AFTRA national exec director David White recently told Variety that the average wait for residual checks is now 56 days, an increase of eight days from late 2010 and called that amount of time “unacceptable.”
“SAG-AFTRA has become a very top-down organization,” Morales said. “We need to see the leaders advocate for the non-star actors. Despite the ‘All is Well’ message from the leaders, we are in crisis. I intend to be the triage president of SAG-AFTRA.”
Morales said he’s not going to attack Howard during the campaign but instead offer members support and alternatives amid a toughening landscape for actors.
He noted that his first show business job was as an extra on Howard’s “The White Shadow” before going on to star in “La Bamba” and “NYPD Blue.” Morales has a recurring role on Starz’ “Magic City.”
Howard and Roberta Reardon have been co-presidents of SAG-AFTRA since March, 2012, when members approved the merger of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.
Austin is a stuntwoman and recently performed in Lionsgate’s “Divergent.” She previously served for a decade as a national board member for SAG and AFTRA.
Morales and Austin admitted that Membership First won’t be able to win enough seats at the election to gain control of the SAG-AFTRA board from the Unite for Strength faction, which first took over the SAG board four years ago and avidly pursued merger.
Ballots for the national, Los Angeles and New York elections will go out July 16 with an Aug. 15 deadline for receipt of ballots. Those contests will determine the president, secretary-treasurer and most board members; an exec VP and seven other VPs will be elected at the first SAG-AFTRA convention in late September.
The self-styled progressives in the Membership First faction did not enter a slate in the final SAG election in 2011 after being defeated convincingly by the self-described moderates of Unite for Strength, who had avidly pursued merger. Membership First lost all 13 of their open seats on the 71-member national board in 2010, including Morales.
Membership First, which strongly opposed merger votes in 1999, 2003 and last year, opposed the merger on the grounds that it would take away SAG’s unique character as an actors union. It asserted during the campaigns that it would support a merger only if it excluded AFTRA’s broadcasters, journalists and recording artists.
Morales said the Membership First platform will not include the specific issues raised by the May 24 suit filed by 15 members of SAG-AFTRA — including George Coe and former SAG president Ed Asner — against the union, alleging extensive misconduct in its handling of foreign levies and residuals they are owed.
SAG-AFTRA has denied the allegations, alleging that SAG-AFTRA has improperly withheld funds and stonewalled requests for information about $110 million held in trust by the union. Those funds, the suit alleges, have been collected by the union through foreign collecting societies without authorization or knowledge of union members.